- The National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature: A “Unique and Significant Collection”
Laying the Foundation
The story of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (formerly the Lu Rees Archives) began with the vision and enthusiasm of one woman. As early as 1973, Lu Rees had established the basis for what the Centre has become today. Her passion for the task was fuelled by her belief that the creative work of authors, illustrators, publishers, and others engaged in producing Australian children’s books formed an important part of the nation’s cultural heritage and must be preserved. In 1974, the Australian Government provided a grant of $500 to each branch of The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA). Lu Rees, the President of the ACT Branch, proposed to all branches that a national collection of children’s literature be established with files about the authors and illustrators and their books.
Viewing translations as an essential part of an author’s works, Lu Rees wrote to authors, illustrators, and publishers in 1979 asking them to donate their translations. Our largest collection of translations is the works of Emily Rodda with 1,200 editions.
In 1981, again writing to authors, illustrators, and publishers, Lu Rees asked them to donate copies of all their books. Today thirty-four publishers and their imprints routinely donate copies of their children’s books, and most have been doing so since 1981.
When a permanent home needed to be found for the growing collection, an informal agreement between the CBCA and the Canberra College of Advanced Education, now the University of Canberra (UC), saw the collection moved to the College in 1980. At that time, the collection held 2,900 books and 170 research files. Today, there are almost 29,000 books in 53 languages and 450 research files. In 1988, the Lu Rees Archives achieved deductible gift recipient status enabling it to collect authors’ papers and manuscripts, illustrators’ artworks, two publishers’ archives, audio recordings, photographs, theses, reference material, and ephemera.
In 2012, the Lu Rees Archives became an incorporated body in the ACT and in 2015 changed its name to the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc. These steps were taken in order to focus its aims, enhance its strength, and pursue a more strategic role in the field of Australian children’s literature.
Over all this time, the work of the Centre has been completed by a loyal band of volunteers. Today volunteers contribute the equivalent of having [End Page 55] 2.5 full-time staff. Many come with high levels of expertise; others develop expertise for the Centre. This invaluable group offers a loyal, highly skilled, and richly diverse pool of talent.
Building the Collection
A modest idea can achieve extraordinary results where there is vision and resolve. Although the collection has developed in so many ways, Lu Rees’ vision is still recognizable within the Centre’s activities today. She knew that for Australian children’s literature to be accepted as a discipline of study in its own right, it needed a diverse and strong collection which would lay the foundation for knowledge building and sharing. No other organization in Australia has accepted this challenge to the same degree as the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature. Today, the collection is valued at over eight million dollars, and each year it enhances in value.
In 2011, an external expert assessed the significance of the collection. He reported that “it has established a firm reputation among researchers, students, bibliographers, librarians and the general public as one of the most important collections of children’s literature in Australia” (Powell 1). He described the collection as “significant” and “unique.” In benchmarking the collection against national holdings, he demonstrated that the collection, specifically for its post-1960 items, equaled those at the National Library and several state libraries. Frequently, the Lu Rees Archives held the only copy of a particular translation.
Since we aim to collect all Australian children’s books over time, we have discovered two invaluable sources for filling gaps in the collection, particularly of pre-1960 editions. Canberra’s Lifeline Book Fair...